Yesterday’s Observer had a piece on the musical tastemaking enterprise within the UK TV show Skins, which chronicles the debauchery-filled lives of nihilistic kids who represent “Broken Britain.” The good thing for the music business: They’re partying to the likes of Crystal Castles as they spiral ever downward! Which may mean record sales, or at least that elusive currency known as “awareness.” Sure, the whole thesis of the article can be summed up by one statement about five-sixths of the way down—”In the UK, we’re coming round to the notion that instead of another doomed attempt to make music TV popular, a more profitable use of time would be trying to fit music to TV that already is popular”—but there were some other choice lessons along the way.
The kids today have bands with crazy names! “It’s a fair bet Skins represents the first TV exposure for Oregon ambient act Eluvium, Liverpool indie-ska band We Need Leads and North Shields pop group Moira Stewart, and an even fairer one that it’s the first channel flagship drama to open to the strains of Son the Father by hardcore Toronto punks Fucked Up – as series three did.”
The music business is all about relationships. “The gatekeeper of Skins’ music policy is 22-year-old Alex Hancock. … Hancock studied English at King’s College London with [Skins creator Bryan Elsley's] son Jamie Brittain, where he was regarded as the university music nut.” And now he’s the 23rd-most-important person in the UK music business! Dreaming big can work for kids who run in the same social circles as the people they aspire to emulate!
Skins is not exactly high-concept. “(A whiteboard in one room bore the fruits of some brainstorming: “___ and ___ sleep together”; “collective lack of acknowledgment”; “exams”; and so on).” Sure, the blanks could be the result of the reporter not wanting to spoil the upcoming season, but “[x] and [y] sleep together” seems to be one of Skins‘ hallmarks, and I like to think that the blanks are just there, waiting to be filled in by various names.
The rich will continue to get richer, thanks to contracts. “(Skins contracts legally bind them to offer everyone the same payment; usually around £400. But that’s for small bands. Thirty seconds of Queen or Robbie Williams could easily come in at £16,000 – £8,000 each for publishing and recording rights.)”
Vertical integration in the UK? Not so easy, unless you’re Simon Cowell. “Elsley would love Skins to be able to fulfil its A&R potential—’to have music from unsigned bands, which are then signed to our label, available as cheap downloads and promoted at our parties where the bands play live; a virtuous circle to support new music inside the show and to the fans.’ But Ofcom, the TV regulator people, won’t have it. It counts as product placement, says Elsley.” But what of shows like The X Factor, which helped propel Leona Lewis to millions of album sales?
Ofcom says the issue is one of cross-promotion, as covered by section 10.3 of the Broadcasting Code. The X Factor’s content is directly related to the programme; the music in Skins is not. However, that doesn’t stop them releasing CD compilations, so long as they’re not promoted within the show, as they have done.
Clearly what the Skins producers need is to force the writers to come up with a plot where some of the slightly more motivated kids in the cast open their own Bait Shop, or Peach Pit After Dark, or hell, The Max? Sure, it’d have to be rebuilt every week after riots break out, but it would make the plotlines fit a little better.
Get with the programme [Guardian]